Regulatory balances

25 Jun 2020 Regulatory balances image

Are we going to take advantage of the many opportunities that Covid has presented us? After all, there are many downsides. The chance to remove unnecessary regulation is a key area in which we need to take advantage because unnecessary regulation stifles growth. For our Covid recovery, we need to enable those industries that can grow, to grow, and grow rapidly to make up for those sectors that are in Covid decline.

Even the Government is focused on doing its bit via the fast track, Resource Management Act (RMA) Amendment Bill. This much-needed RMA enhancement is a very public acknowledgement that the RMA needs to be overhauled. If the RMA needs streamlining for a small number of very important projects, it needs to be reformed for all projects as a matter of simple logic.

We need to ask if the maze of intricate rules and regulations that has sprouted from the RMA through government and councils has achieved New Zealand’s goals and aims. Even Auckland City – the largest council in New Zealand, can’t keep up. It’s been too difficult for them to build new water storage infrastructure to better manage Auckland’s water, so they are having to rely on taking water off other users in the Waikato to meet Auckland’s urban needs.

The only conclusion to reach is that a complete overhaul the RMA is urgently needed, particularly now that we are facing an economic crisis that will be long and far reaching due to Covid.

So how to do we do this? A simple answer is to expand the scope of the RMA amendment, but that will not provide much needed relief for our urban and rural businesses. First, we need to look at the sectors that will lead the financial Covid recovery. Then we need to look at how we can enable businesses in those sectors to continue producing and expanding. We need to find the RMA blockages and remove them, and if the blockages cannot be removed, we need to reduce their impact. We need to achieve this through a holistic lens that takes into account not only the environment but the needed to drive economic success and New Zealander’s wellbeing.

A balance needs to be struck. Take commercial vegetable growing as an active example. Do we need fresh, healthy and locally grown vegetables? We do, but never have we needed these vegetables more than we do today in the Covid environment. We need everyone to have access to healthy food for their own good. Closing down farmers markets and independent fruit and vegetable retailers during Covid resulted in a fifth of New Zealanders not having access to healthy food when they most needed it.

We need to ensure that everyone in New Zealand has access to fresh fruit and vegetables. To do that, we need to empower and enable our growers to grow that food. Covid has taught us we can’t take this for granted.

Our vegetable growers have endured static margins, increased production costs and exponentially increased compliance costs. Most of the compliance cost increases have come from RMA rules and regulations that have often been imposed based on pastoral farming, with no recognition that growing vegetables is very different to growing animals. One size does not fit all. The other fact that has been forgotten is vegetable growing has no meaningful impact on national water quality and contributes less than 1% to greenhouse gases. And where there is an impact on water quality, it is very localised, and that impact is being progressively reduced by the growers.

If you are struggling with these points, just note that all the vegetables grown in New Zealand are grown on less than 50,000 hectares. Dairy farms, by way of comparison, use more than 2 million hectares of land and beef and lamb, more than 8 million hectares. Simple logic dictates how minimal the impact of vegetables is.

So how do we protect and nurture our vegetable growing operations to feed us into the future? As far as the RMA is concerned, the answer is to create a tailored regime for vegetable growing that recognises its different growing systems, contribution to the health of people, the very localised impact on the environment and how that impact is being reduced every day.

In RMA terms, a National Environmental Standard is needed so that it applies across the whole country and treats all commercial vegetable growers fairly. It will also need to impose the necessary but pragmatic requirements to account for local environmental needs against the national importance of growing system for healthy food.

This is not a free pass, far from it. Government is working in this space, but we need to encourage them to keep working on it and with the Covid recovery upon us, to do this work with some speed.

So, as we come into the general election, why not raise this very issue with your local MP?

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive